The fight to preserve a true historic structure, Beaufort County High School

Published 11:36 am Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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Located in Pantego, North Carolina, Beaufort County High School (BCHS) was built in 1926. The all-Black school housed grades 1 through 12 before finally closing its doors for good in 1968. After 98 years, the all-brick eight-room structure is showing signs of its age. Though looking forlorn and tattered there is a true sense that you are walking into a time capsule when you first step into the building. And in fact, you are.

In 2010 BCHS alum, Sharon Greig was attending a conference in Asheville where they were showing films about the history of Rosenwald Schools in North Carolina. “They were showing pictures of the different schools,” said Greig. “I saw one that caught my attention and I thought to myself, “Oh my God, that is our school!”. “I then attended another meeting and I was able to confirm that it was a Rosenwald School.”

The Rosenwald schools were the vision of Julias Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears and Roebuck, and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute. Hailed as one of the most important initiatives to advance black education, the schools were built specifically for African American children in the South. In all, there are 813 Rosenwald Schools located throughout North Carolina.

For Greig, other alum, and fellow residents of Pantego, there is a sense of urgency to restore and preserve this living breathing, historic “museum”. They want to return it to the days when it served as a true community center for the area after closing its doors as a school in 1968. “We want this building to be a resource for all people in our community and the surrounding area,” said Pantego resident Raleigh Younger.

“Up until the time we had to close its doors for good due to disrepair, it served as a true community center,” said alum Yvonne McCloud. “There have been wellness and exercise classes. It was a food pantry for those in need. We have held church services and funerals inside this building. We want to bring all of that back and also create a conference room where we can hold meetings, develop a telecenter for those with medical questions who can’t make it to the doctor, and have a dedicated history room about the school.”

But as McCloud and the others are well aware, with those dreams comes a hefty price tag. And even more so after the building took a hit from Hurricane Florence in 2020. “Through our nonprofit, the Beaufort County Pantego Community Center, we applied for and received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Parks Department for the restoration work,” said Greig. “We later learned the total cost for the restoration work would be over $2 million. So for now the $750,000 is on hold until the Parks Department and our nonprofit can come up with the additional $1.5 million. We are not going to sit by idly and watch this building fade away. We are doing everything in our power to raise the funds so we can get the needed work done to restore the building to what it once was.”

They have expressed their dire need to state and federal senators, congressmen, the governor’s office, and county commissioners. They have also sent donation letters to the major businesses and corporations in the area. “Information is power and the more we get the message out there the better our chances,” said Younger. “We have received some small private donations but they don’t add up to enough to do the needed renovations. Our hope remains eternal.”

“When you look at this school, you can’t help but think about our parents and grandparents who walked these halls,” said McCloud. “And you think about all of the things that they, and others have gone on to accomplish. A lot of us, including myself, left and went away, retired, and then came back. I always thought in the back of my mind that I was going to come back home. This is where my heart is. In this school and this building. I love this old school.”

“When I found out this was a Rosenwald School my mind reflected back to our history,” added Greig. “I read up on the history of Julias Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington and was amazed to learn of their drive and want to educate us. This school has produced lawyers, doctors, teachers, and business people from all walks of life. My parents and other parents contributed twenty-six cents each to get this building started. My roots are here and we have to get this project done so we can leave a legacy for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Visibly moved, Younger concluded by saying, “My mother and uncle went to school here. I didn’t know it was a Rosenwald School until I moved back to Pantego. Being in tune with Black history though, I’m very familiar with the value the Rosenwald Schools provided for negroes back then. I often try and envision where my mother walked in these hallways. As long as this building is able to stand and I still got breath, I will be working toward the goal of getting this building restored and bringing it back to life.”

The Beaufort County High School Alumni Association currently holds the deed to the property.

For more information or to make a donation please reach out to Raleigh Younger at 252-943-7268 or Sharon Greig at 252-945-4223.